Finally, today ends all the hype and the speculation that was started last January when Apple Inc. announced their new product for the consumer market, the iPhone. The questions everyone have been asking are: Is it worth the price? Is it really useful beyond the “cool” factor? Is it for business? Of course my question with any new product is, does wow=roi?

This new device is appealing because of its “all in one” design that reduces the bulk of the electronic devices that you carry with you: cell phone, PDA, BlackBerry, and mp3 player. However, this is not a new concept, as anyone who has a smart phone can attest. These merged features have been around for awhile. In fact, PCWorld posted an article on how many phones can get the same features and how you can reduce “iPhone Envy.” The difference though is in the interface; there are no buttons on an iPhone, just a touch screen. Since you also work the screen with a finger, there is no stylus to lose (why do you think they sell replacements in 3-packs); on the other hand, the touch keyboard does take some getting used to.There are also other reported new integration features, such as what happens if you are listening to tunes when a call comes in. The music fades out so you can answer the call, then picks up again when you hang up. Ironically enough, despite this, you cannot use music in the phone as a ring tone.

The next issue is price; the iPhone is expensive. It is $499 for a 4Gb model and $599 for 8Gb, along with other features. However, you should also consider that this phone would replace several other devices, so their costs have to be factored in. An 4Gb iPod Nano costs $199 and a BlackBerry smart phone starts at $199 from Verizon, so you are spending $400 right there without the camera features. In addition, there are the prices of the combined services for these devices that are combined into one with the iPhone. Two-year plans with AT&T range from $60 to $200 per month (unlimited data access, with plans starting at 450 minutes). If you have separate plans for your phone and BlackBerry/PDA, you could save there as well.

One of the downsides is that the iPhone is only offered through AT&T/Cingular, so if you have a different carrier that you are happy with and do not want to change, you are out of luck. Also, the coverage of their network is inconsistent, according to a Consumer Reports survey cited in the June 28 Philadelphia Inquirer. Their EDGE network for data does not have a very high connection speed and could bottleneck on downloads to that beautiful wide (portrait and landscape) screen.

Overall this makes for a lot of “wow,” and maybe having an iPhone will be the next status symbol. But the question is, is it the next big thing for the mobile lawyer? That, to some extent, depends on your needs. If you just need a good smart phone that combines your phone and PDA, you’re probably already good to go. Plus you would also have text instant messaging available to you, which the iPhone lacks. However, if you need to be connected to the internet for e-mail and web browsing, and using your laptop is not always practical, the wider screen and interface has a lot of advantages as far as the display of the information and navigating the web.

There are also a couple other considerations. The iPhone is a proprietary device; Apple does not want third parties writing applications for it. Although that might lead to more stability between hardware and software, it also limits the expansion of features available. Just think about the number of applications you can download for your Palm or PocketPC that make it more productive. It is also not a device that is considered to be for business. It is being offered to the public by AT&T as a consumer, not a business, account. It is also not compatible with Microsoft Exchange servers (for those of you solo and small firms that actually have one!).

My recommendation is much the same as it is for any other new product just released; wait and see how things shake out. This product hasn’t even been in the hands of third party testers yet, as it goes on sale today. Much will be written about it in the months to come as people start actually using them. It will either succeed or be a flop. If it is the latter, you will be glad you didn’t buy it (and possibly switch your carrier to AT&T). If it is a hit, other vendors will be looking to top it, which will lead to more of a selection in phones that merge these particular devices. In the June 28 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Roger Entner, Senior Vice President of IAG Research, Inc., said of Apple’s marketing of the iPhone to date: “You have this unprecedented secrecy that turns into this feeding frenzy that we’re all a part of. It’s sort of like the last episode of The Sopranos.” Let’s hope the iPhone’s actual debut will not be as disappointing, and have the same backlash, as that landmark television event!